MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The No. 22 West Virginia’s women’s basketball team routed St. Francis University, 86-33, in its season opener.
West Virginia got out to a 27-8 lead in the first quarter. The Mountaineers had seven different scorers and shot 50 percent from the field. St. Francis struggled with West Virginia’s full-court press, as they turned the ball over eight times. Guard KK Deans had four steals in the first quarter.
The Mountaineers continued their dominance in the second quarter and went into halftime with a commanding 47-19 lead. Forward Esmery Martinez was the leading scorer for the Mountaineers with 13 points. Martinez also had a team-high six rebounds. Forward Kari Niblack was second in scoring with 10 points. West Virginia had 20 points in the paint with 3:37 remaining in the second quarter.
“We’re strong in the paint with Kari and Esmery and Messiah [Hunter], Blessing [Ojiofor],” head coach Mike Carey said. “We need to go in there, and that’s going to open up the guards. If we go in there and they sag, our posts are very unselfish and they’ll kick it out from under. It’s a lot easier stepping into wide open shots than force stuff. Now, that’s my plan. We’ll go inside a lot this year. We have a lot of strength in the paint.”
St. Francis turned the ball over a whopping 19 times in the first half, while West Virginia turned the ball over just five times. The Mountaineers had 12 steals and Deans led the team with five.
West Virginia outscored St. Francis 24-5 in the third quarter and went into the fourth quarter with a 71-24 lead. Deans nailed back-to-back three-pointers to begin the third quarter and Martinez continued to be an efficient shooter.
“You know, me, [Madisen Smith], Kari, Es, we’ve been playing with each other for a couple years now, so we know each other, and Jayla [Hemingway] too,” Deans said. “Like I said, the freshmen, they’re seeing us do that and they don’t know exactly how to do it, but they’re trying and they’re not giving up. Just like me, my freshmen year, they kept trying to slow me down. I was always going, going, but once I realized and took a step back and looked at the game as a whole, that’s what they’ve got to do as well.”
St. Francis was just overmatched against West Virginia, as the Mountaineers had a big advantage in size and speed. They also shot really well from the field, making 55.6 percent of their shots (35-of-63). West Virginia also forced 35 turnovers and had 21 steals. Add it all up and it became a 53-point win for the Mountaineers, exceeding the series’ score average: 85.2 per game against the Red Flash.
“First game, I was pleased with our effort,” coach Carey said. “Execution, as we know, the first game, you’ve got to get a lot better. For the first game, I was very pleased with our effort…. Everybody got to play and everybody got to play a bunch of minutes, and we’ve got to get better this next game.
“It was important, because when you’re getting time in a game, you’re probably going to practice harder,” Carey said. “For morale, for understanding if you play hard, you’ll play more minutes, understanding if you execute, you play more minutes. That’s the way this team is going to be this year. Whoever executes the best is going to get the playing time. They all know that you have to come in and play hard and execute when they’re in there.”
Martinez, who was named to the All-Big 12 Women’s Basketball Preseason first team, led the Mountaineers with 19 points and had a team-high seven rebounds. Deans was second in scoring with 18 points and led the team in steals with seven. Deans was named All-Preseason Big 12 honorable mention.
Coming off the bench for the Mountaineers, center Yemiyah Morris scored 12 points and guard Ja’Naiya Quinerly had 10 points.
St. Francis shot 31 percent from the field, making 13 of 42 shots. Guard Jenna Mastellone led the Red Flash with 11 points.
The Mountaineers’ next game is on Friday, Nov. 19, against Kennesaw State at the WVU Coliseum. Tipoff is at noon.
Julia Mellett contributed reporting from Morgantown.